Netanyahu Plea Deal: Attorney General to Demand Harsher Terms

Netanyahu would have to admit he took perks from Bezeq owner in return for regulatory favors, which the former prime minister's associates say he will find difficult to accept

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at a conference in Haifa, in November.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at a conference in Haifa, in November.Credit: Fadi Amun
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit will reportedly insist that a plea bargain with Benjamin Netanyahu include Netanyahu’s admission that he accepted favors from Shaul Elovitch, who controlled the telecommunications giant Bezeq, in exchange for regulatory help. Members of Mendelblit’s inner circle say they believe Netanyahu will find it difficult to accept these conditions.

The harsher conditions were formulated at a Monday meeting Mendelblit held with prosecutors, who had been not been party to the plea bargain discussions with Netanyahu until now. The prosecutors took a much hasher line than Mendelblit had been taking, but he accepted their view.

Participants at the meeting agreed that no essential changes would be made to the original indictment, but only in regard to the “periphery” of the allegations it contains.

In light of the new demands by Mendelblit, Netanyahu's attorneys asked for a copy of the revised deal on Wednesday. Sources close to Netanyahu and Mendelblit do not believe that the deal will be realized until the attorney general's retirement at the end of January, and thus negotiations will continue with Mendelblit's temporary successor, State Prosecutor Amit Aisman.

Mendelblit's amended deal stipulates that the former prime minister will have to admit that his demands for favorable coverage from Bezeq’s Walla news website were in fact met, as the indictment in Case 4000 asserts. Since the evidentiary phase of the Netanyahu trial began, his lawyers have dedicated most of their time trying to disprove that claim.

Another red line set at the meeting is that Netanyahu would have to admit that he instructed Shlomo Filber, the Communications Ministry director general at the time of the alleged events, to promote Bezeq’s regulatory interests. Netanyahu has denied this, claiming, for example that his role in a merger between Bezeq and its Yes satellite television subsidiary was only formal approval of the deal.

Those at the meeting with Mendelblit agreed that this was not enough and that the former prime minister would have to admit to his deep involvement in granting favors to Elovitch.

There was consensus in principle among those present at Monday’s meeting that a plea deal in which Netanyahu admits to the actions and accepts a finding of moral turpitude – another condition Mendelblit has made – would serve the public interest better than a court conviction. That is because of the ongoing attacks by Netanyahu and his allies against the legal system and the deep rifts his trial has created in Israeli society.

Some of those present at the meeting warned the attorney general that the High Court of Justice would likely criticize the deal if it gets the impression that the Netanyahu’s punishment isn’t commensurate with the severity of his actions. This is one of the reasons Mendelblit wants to increase the sentence from between three and six months of community service to between seven and nine months.

People at the meeting warned that insisting on Netanyahu’s admitting he accepted favors from Bezeq might draw the criticism of the High Court, which will wonder why the prosecution made do with a conviction for breach of trust, even though Netanyahu’s admission shows that an act of bribery was committed.

Participants agreed that any judicial criticism of the deal must be avoided, because the court has itself come under harsh criticism by both Netanyahu’s supporters and opponents.

If a plea bargain is signed with Netanyahu, the Bezeq-Walla case will proceed against Elovitch and his wife, Iris. As Netanyahu’s lawyer Boaz Ben Zur has also made clear to him, Netanyahu would be required to appear as a witness for the prosecution, recount the offenses he committed and be cross-examined. Members of Netanyahu’s inner circle say he is particularly bothered by this prospect.

At Mendelblit’s meeting with prosecutors the possibility was also raised of meeting Netanyahu halfway on Case 1000 – the lavish-gifts affair. The idea of reducing the value of the gifts allegedly given is now under consideration. That would reduce the size of fine that’s imposed on Netanyahu, which are now estimated will reach into the hundreds of thousands of shekels.

The plea bargain, as currently formulated, would also release Netanyahu from the charges of fraud and breach of trust in case against him regarding of alleged favors to Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes (Case 2000). But Netanyahu may also be required to testify against Mozes, though the latter is also negotiating a plea bargain for himself.

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